A package deal

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Like the roadmap, the Arab Peace Initiative is unique in its ability to address all of the legitimate concerns of parties to the conflict. In this way, it illustrates that the legitimate requirements of Israel are not incompatible with those of the Arabs and Palestinians.

The need to end the Israeli occupation of territory acquired in 1967 (the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights of Syria and remaining occupied Lebanese territories) is the most important concern of the Arab side of the conflict.

Likewise, Palestinian and Arab willingness to recognize Israel within the borders of 1967 is the other side of the coin, the trade-off for Israeli willingness to end that occupation and allow for an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

The peace and security that is required by all parties to the conflict–and that is the most prominent Israeli concern–is rooted in the culmination of the two-state solution, which will consequently allow the Palestinian party the rights of self-determination, freedom and liberty through their independent state within the borders of 1967.

The Arab Peace Initiative holds out for "full Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied since 1967". The word "full" here is important to the Palestinian and Arab side–first, because the occupied Palestinian territory is very small and excluding parts of it from Israeli withdrawal would affect significantly its viability as an independent state.

But second and more important is the Palestinian and Arab desire to base their positions upon international legality, which cannot be compromised. Were we to compromise on international law by conceding the borders of 1967, then we would allow the negotiations over borders to fall hostage to the balance of power between the two sides, which is obviously not in our favor.

Finally, need anyone be reminded, Palestinians have rights to historic Palestine beyond the borders of 1967. Palestinians have compromised their rights to the lands beyond the 1967 borders in the hopes of gaining a state of their own. However, it is important to recall that the only other borders besides the lines of 1967 with legal significance are the lines of the 1948 partition plan encoded in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181.

What Israel needs to understand is that it cannot use the virtue of its power and military might to prevent a full withdrawal from all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. By trying to do so, it risks scuttling the two-state solution and shouldering the blame for missing the historic compromise that the Arab Peace Initiative is calling for. In short, it risks peace in the region.

Israel usually raises three arguments against full withdrawal from the occupied territories. First is the settlement reality. However, we are forced not to take this seriously because Israel insists on expanding settlements in order to justify its control over more territory.

The second excuse is security, and the Palestinian side has been in negotiations very flexible in accepting any requested security guarantees, including an international military presence, as long as they come with a full territorial withdrawal.

Third, Israel says it cannot abandon the holy sites in Jerusalem. Here the Palestinian position is very clear and logical: political sovereignty does not follow religious or historic attachment. Followers of different faiths should and can be guaranteed the right to access and worship at holy sites no matter who is in control of the territories. Jews, Christians and Muslims should have equal and free access to their relevant religious sites, no matter if these fall in the Jewish or Palestinian state. Today, two sites revered by the Jewish people fall under Palestinian Authority control in Nablus and Jericho. These sites have been developed and respected by the Palestinian Authority and Jewish worshippers given access. Indeed, no one has complained.

The Arab Peace Initiative is a package deal and cannot be dealt with selectively. Israel, in return for a full withdrawal, is guaranteed comprehensive peace, security and economic prosperity. It must, however, withdraw to the borders of 1967.

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